New Definition of Public Relations

We all know the communications landscape has changed. Reporters no longer only take a notebook and pen to cover a story. Now they tweet or update their Facebook status with breaking news. Some carry a small video camera to record the story to post to YouTube or the media outlet’s website.

The same is true of public relations. The Public Relations Society of America, the industry’s largest organization, is embarking on an effort to develop a better definition of “public relations.” The organization is soliciting suggestions from the public along with public relations professionals, academics and students.

So far the leading words are “public,” “communication,” “organization,” “stakeholders” and “audiences.”

As with most PR efforts, there is a creative name, Public Relations Defined. It’s all part of trying to make sense of the profound changes in public relations since the last time the organization updated its definition – in 1982.

PR was once a one-way process, but today PR moves in many directions and is more about engagement and holding a conversation thanks to social media and the Internet. Today it’s not just about PR or good buzz. It’s about earned media, crowd sourcing, buzz marketing and word-of-mouth marketing.

The PRSA website notes that public relations professionals continue to struggle with the question, “What is PR?” As a result, many industry professionals are unhappy with the current definition and no one definition is considered the de facto industry definition. PRSA’s definition of public relations was last updated in 1982.

In the past 10 years, PRSA has convened two special committees to explore modernizing the definition of public relations. The 2003 PRSA Committee to Define Public Relations agreed to a new definition, though it was never formally adopted by the Society.

Submissions will be accepted through Dec. 2 and PRSA expects to announce the new definition in late December.

How do you define PR?

5 Tips for a Stress-Free Holiday Season

The holiday seasons are upon us, which means that in addition to work deadlines, we have the added pressures of gift buying, parties and decorating. A few years ago, I took a random day off in early December. It was a case of “use it or lose it.”

Now I do it every year because I spent that day finishing my gift shopping without the weekend crowds. I also met a friend for lunch, which made the day more fun and more civilized. It was a great way to reduce the holiday stress.

Here are 5 more suggestions to keep stress-free during the holiday season:

1) Take a walk without a destination. You’ll get some exercise and you’ll clear your head.

2) Get enough sleep. When you’re well-rested you are able to face the day’s challenges.

3) Drink plenty of water. Dehydration can lead to grumpiness.

4) Give to someone in need. It is the season for giving so why not offer your communications skills to a nonprofit that could use some help. You could take your old cell phones and donate them to a battered women’s shelter.

5) De-clutter. M.C. Escher said, “We adore chaos because we love to produce order.” This is the perfect time of year to clean a
closet, a drawer, a shelf. You’ll feel lighter.

How will you keep the season stress-free?

Public Relations Ranks High as Stressful Job

Turns out those of us who work in PR aren’t exaggerating when we say we’re stressed. According to Careers Cast, public relations officer is the second most stressful job.

Marilyn Saltzman, who retired as communications manager for Jefferson County Public Schools, Colorado’s largest school district, knows the stress of the job. She was one of the spokespersons during the Columbine tragedy.

PR ranks as the second most stressful job. (Photo by gotmyphilosophy)

She says PR is stressful because you have to expect the unexpected. “Your schedule can change in a moment’s notice, requiring flexibility and the ability to live with ambiguity. You may have 20 things on your to-do list, and everything goes out the window because of a media request, some type of crisis or an urgent assignment.”

Jon Newman of The Hodges Partnership says “the ultimate lack of control” makes PR stressful.

Karen Galanaugh, owner of Galanaugh & Company, says reputation management is a big stressor in PR. “It’s up to you to manage the public opinion meter, mitigate pain to the company and prevent loss of sales, membership, investors or voters,” she says. “You’ve got to get the facts, work fast, develop messages, clear it with the company attorneys, and use your PR training to communicate to all stakeholders.”

To minimize the stress, Marilyn says being prepared and proactive are key. “Know what the potential issues are and take action before they become crisis,” she says. “Make sure you have good internal sources of information, who respect you, ask for your advice, listen and give you what you need to do your job.”

Jon advises, “Each person also needs to find their ‘outlets’ or passions outside of the industry just like other folks do in other fields.” Baseball is one of Jon’s passions.

Karen says, “If you love your job it can seem less stressful.” Of course, if all else fails, she says of handling her stress, “I eat and don’t pick up after myself. It might work for others.”

The most stressful job is commercial pilot.

Blogs and Building Communities

Editor’s Note: I recently attended WordCamp Richmond, which was all about blogging using WordPress. I learned a lot, felt overwhelmed at times and was inspired to write several blogs. This is the final one. Part 1 focused on whether to start a blog and Part 2 focused on blog comments.

“We have a lot to talk about” was the refrain of several bloggers who write about their communities, whether it’s a neighborhood or a community built around the theater.

During the recent WordCamp Richmond several bloggers shared their experiences in keeping a community blog going.

Scott Berger writes about a small neighborhood in Richmond, Va., known as Oregon Hill. It’s near a major university, which has eroded some of the neighborhood’s character. He wanted to write about the community because “it’s such a great neighborhood.”

He also wanted to bring neighborhood concerns out in the open because “We weren’t getting through to the mainstream press. They weren’t really giving our viewpoint.”

John Murden also lives in a unique neighborhood in Richmond, known as Church Hill. “It’s a crazier neighborhood than I ever have lived in,” he told the audience. He cited the beautiful old houses and the hookers near his house. He started finding things that were important to the neighborhood such as historic preservation and the blog Church Hill People’s News was born.

Mike Clark and his wife created a blog around theater reviews, ShowBizRadio. “Our review was the two of us talking about the show and recording it and putting it up as a podcast,” he said. They added interviews with actors, producers and designers. Then they added a calendar with show times and audition dates. They started hiring writers. “Now we go to less shows, but have more content,” Mike said.

Scott says he tries to recognize the journalistic venture in his blog, but he also includes his opinions. And because he’s covering a small neighborhood, he has to be respectful of people’s privacy. He finds comments by listening, attending meetings and also checking out Craig’s List and foreclosures. A recent post highlighted a vintage 1950s blue vinyl chair and ottoman for sale. He then reminded the neighbors about an upcoming flea market.

John, too, pulls from wherever he can. “The best is when I do my own reporting,” he noted. One piece he was proud of was comparing crime data from the worst crime year to the present. It took a lot of time, and that, said the panelists was the difficult part. The blogs are not a full-time job for them and most don’t get paid. “It’s hard to find the time,” John said.

Added Scott, “ It’s a matter of time and energy.”

He’s had readers complain about his photography, but he has to laugh. He said he often takes the photos using his cell phone when he’s walking two dogs around the block. “They’re not going to be the best photos!”

They all agree that they need to find others to help with the blogs. Said Mike, “The site is not evergreen so if I don’t post something new within a few weeks, the site is dead.”

They keep doing it, though, because it helps their communities. Said Scott, “Sometimes people don’t always know what’s going on in the next block. Let’s get together and figure out what’s going on and how we can address it.”

John said letting neighbors know about meetings led to the formation of a dog park in his community. And he helped get the word out about neighborhood clean-ups. “Here’s how you can make a real difference in our neighborhood in a couple of hours.”

Blog Comments: Good or Bad?

Editor’s Note: I recently attended WordCamp Richmond, which was all about blogging using WordPress. I learned a lot, felt overwhelmed at times and was inspired to write several blogs. This is the second one. Part 1 focused on whether to create a blog and Part 3 will talk about communities and blogging.

One of the best parts of blogging is when someone writes a comment after I post a blog. The comment lets me know that I said something that resonated. My goal is to get to the point where there is a long comment stream because it means that the conversation is continuing.

When it comes to comments on blogs, there are three considerations.

  1. Should I respond to comments? “Yes! It’s building relationships,” says Bradley Robb, who spoke at WordCamp Richmond
  2. Should I allow comments? Yes, if you want to steer the conversation.
  3. Can I delete comments I don’t like? Yikes!

If someone posts that they liked the blog, I sometimes acknowledge the kinds words. I know I should do it every time. Sometimes, I get distracted, but really, it’s a compliment, and you should always acknowledge a compliment.

I have my blog set up that I must approve the comment in advance. Only once did I not allow a comment and that’s when someone made a wild claim that I could not substantiate and I feared it could lead to a libel issue.

One time, I made a grammatical mistake in my blog post. A reader sent me a comment. How embarrassing! I quickly revised the blog, and I allowed the comment to remain. I want my readers to know that their comments are appreciated.

Comments are a great way to keep the conversation going. At WordCamp Richmond Frank Fitzpatrick of Henrico County Schools (Va.) shared how students in his school district studied multicultural versions of Cinderella and then commented on blog posts about the topic. Students are taught early about internet safety. Commenting on blogs was a means for  students to pull their thoughts together and share with others, Frank said.

When won’t I allow a comment? As I already noted, if the comment could lead to legal troubles, is offensive or is off topic. After all, this is a community of professional communicators, and I think everyone expects a level of professionalism.

Going forward, I hope to hear from more of you on the blog through comments. For those who are consistent posters, thank you! Your comments mean the world to me.

Blogging 101

Editor’s Note: I recently attended WordCamp Richmond, which was all about blogging using WordPress. I learned a lot, felt overwhelmed at times and was inspired to write several blogs. This is the first one. Part 2 will focus on blog comments and Part 3 will talk about communities and blogging.

When colleagues learn I have a blog, they often say to me, “I need to start one.” My next question to them is why?

Don’t get me wrong, a blog is a great communications tool. However, if you don’t have a communications plan or a purpose for writing the blog, your blog is going to go into cyberspace and nothing will happen.

So why should you have a blog? During a recent WordCamp in Richmond, Va., Bradley Robb, a digital producer with INM United offered four reasons to blog, including:

  1. Building Community
  2. Establishing authority: “If you’re the one with the mic people obviously assume you know what you are talking about,” he notes.
  3. Building fresh content
  4. Engaging directly with clients, customers or peers

Once you’ve decided that a blog is an appropriate communications tool for you or your client, you will want to establish an editorial calendar. I post on Wednesdays and Sundays so my calendar has all the Wednesdays and Sundays listed. I then go through and note possible topics. For example, I knew I would be attending WordCamp Richmond so I marked the dates closest to the camp as topics related to the camp.

In September I always note that I will have three to four posts around the National Federation of Press Women conference. January is a good month to have a post around resolutions related to communications.

An editorial calendar Bradley says “is a great way to make sure your blog doesn’t die.” Since establishing my schedule and calendar, I have never missed a post. A calendar forces consistency for me. When I run low on ideas, I have to spend some time researching so that I don’t come up short on a day that I post. A calendar also leads to new ideas. I met a student the other week for breakfast after he asked for advice about communications in the non-profit field. He tweeted about it, and it inspired a post on a day when I had not yet decided what to write about.

The final benefit of an editorial calendar is that it forces consistency. Thanks to my calendar I have never missed posting on a Wednesday or Sunday. My readers have come to expect twice weekly posts. I don’t want to disappoint.

When you’re ready to blog, don’t forget to create your editorial calendar. Whether you post once a week or once a month, it will help you with your content.

Are you ready to blog?

How to Help a Student

I had breakfast this morning with a student from VCU. I was introduced to him by email through a colleague who had spoken with him. James wanted to know more about PR and, specifically, about PR work in nonprofits.

Early in my career I had good mentors and met with individuals who were willing to share their experiences and advice so I’ve always tried to do the same. I have one rule, though, if we’re going to meet in person, it has to be breakfast. That way I can tell how committed they are.

James was committed. He arrived by bike through thick fog and had lots of questions. He shared his experiences, too, and he’s on the right track. I suggested some articles for him to read and websites to review. I also encouraged him to get on LinkedIn because most college students aren’t, but most recruiters are. I encouraged him to connect with me. I’m perusing my list of contacts for some additional introductions for him.

So why take the time out of my schedule to meet with students? I enjoy helping them. And I love recalling my college days and the anticipation of what was ahead of me. The students always remind me of why I do what I do and of some of the basics that may have slipped.

It’s a win for both of us.

I hope it was worth the bike ride, the fog and the early morning breakfast. I think his tweet means it was.

Have you thought of offering your wisdom to a college student? If you’re already doing it, what other advice would you offer?